The gospel reading for today is one that divides the commentators – not surprising as it seems Jesus is rude to this woman in need, and the way he heals the man seems peculiar.
For us, 2000 years on, and 2000 miles away from where it happened, we have to acknowledge we don’t know all the details, but then neither did Mark’s readers.
The woman is from round Tyre, she is a Syro-Phoenician. There is a theological clue here: Tyre (in the Old Testament) was a proud city that rejected God; depicted as a wealthy arrogant place. Might we see this woman in some way representing that culture of entitlement and pride?
There is also a clue in the word for “dogs”; the word used is that of a pet, or lap-dog, not a guard-dog. We might presume that Jesus is in a house where there are pet dogs, maybe even which are being fed from the table, while the children are at the back somewhere.
There is another clue in the bread (crumbs). Just as the feeding of the 5000 was prefaced by Jairus daughter being healed and eating (This was all in Jewish territory), so now a Gentile woman gets “crumbs” before 4000 are fed and satisfied – for the 4000 who are fed are from Gentile territory.
There is this direct parallel in Mark – there is first the feeding the Jews (individual then crowd) followed by the feeding of Gentiles (the individual then the crowd). This woman with her daughter is the equivalent of the woman and Jairus’ daughter in chapter 5.
And the second part of the reading has Jesus heal a man who struggles to hear and speak – metaphorically so do we! We struggle to hear clearly Jesus’s teaching, and we struggle to speak it to others. The detail of how Jesus healed this person is interesting, but the emphasis is obvious – the man needed touching on both ears and tongue.
For us – we need to work at what our Scriptures are saying – not always easy, nor even always clear. Jesus is not a simple two-dimensional figure and life is complex. Might we accept that we need his help to hear better and speak better – would we pray for that touch that will give us both the deeper hearing AND the clarity to speak of who Jesus is? If I am honest, I don’t see in me, or in many in our churches the same excitement that was in the man who goes out excitedly to share his joy and what Jesus has done. May God open our ears and our lips.
Rev’d Peter Reiss